The world of Retail is continuously changing and evolving. Today, traditional brick-and-mortar stores receive a constant stream of doom and gloom predictions that online pure-plays, such as Amazon, are the way of the future. While this may sound ominous, the fact is, according to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau data, that by 2030, $3.6 trillion of retail sales will come from brick-and-mortar stores, out of a total of $5.2 trillion.
This begs the question, “With all the negative forecasting about brick-and-mortar, why will retail sales continue to come largely from physical stores?”
The answer is simple: the in-store customer experience. For all the convenience of an online pure-play such as Amazon, with the exception of one or two recently opened concept stores, they cannot provide a truly magical “in the aisles” customer experience. Retailers with brick-and-mortar locations have a great opportunity to satisfy shoppers’ “I want it now!” requirements for instant gratification. However these same retailers have to invest in technology to consistently deliver a shopping experience that leaves customers with positive memories and an urge to return to the store.
Retailers must first work on becoming more efficient and productive in their store operations practices. A good place to start is by implementing a real-time task management solution. Currently, too many retailers dictate tasks such as new product rollouts, recalls, and planogram placements using outdated methods such as e-mail, and voice mails. Using these methods leads to end users receiving redundant and conflicting communication from multiple corporate departments and regional managers. The chaos of forcing store managers to go to multiple sources of information results in inconsistent execution of everything from promotions to recalls, missed opportunities, and lost revenue.
Task management allows retailers to have a single, prioritized pipeline of information for store managers which can be specific for each location. Instead of cobbling together their plans from various sources, all the information is available in a single system. Improved compliance and efficient execution allows managers and associates to get back to the store floor to do what they do best – sell.
Another key technology is workforce management (WFM). WFM solutions allow retailers to automate their labor scheduling in alignment with customer demand while complying with union rules and labor laws. To ensure that associates working on the sales floor are happy and motivated, retailers should implement a mobile Employee Self-Service solution that allows associates to view schedules, request time off, swap shifts, and view vacation accruals. Automated labor scheduling solutions should balance the needs of the business and employees and take associate preferences into account when developing the schedule. Finally, a good WFM solution uses analytics to get the most out of a retailer’s limited labor budget by optimizing schedules to align labor with demand, increasing sales and improving customer service.
In addition to software that enhances productivity and customer engagement, smart machines and cognitive software can further improve the in-store shopping experience. The Internet of Things has arrived and with it are devices that can track and detect valuable information for retailers. A few examples of such devices are:
- Smart shelves that detect when inventory is low
- Beacons that collect information on frequent shoppers and provide digital coupons based on in-store shopper location
- Smart thermostats/lighting that improve energy efficiency
- Smart mirrors that allow customers to “try on” different outfits
- Clienteling applications that provide on-the-fly information on customer preferences and purchases
All these technologies bring a tremendous amount of efficiency to retailers. More importantly, though, these technologies provide retailers with valuable information. The question then becomes, how do retailers use all the data to improve the in-store customer experience?
Currently, all the different applications and dashboards that are in retail stores provide associates with myriad sources of information, but in the form of mystifying reports and unseemly charts and store employee “To Do” lists. Employees should not be expected to read through and decipher reports and charts and have to learn multiple applications. With high employee turnover, training employees on how to use different systems on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis is not sustainable.
Additionally, having to learn all these different systems should not be the job of store managers and associates as each new system has to be intuitive as possible. Retailers need to remember the store’s workforce main job is to serve customers.
To take advantage of all this data, retailers need a system that can accomplish two things:
- Simplify employees lives by consolidating all their disparate store systems into a mobile-enabled unified interface;
- Analyze data intelligently and provide alerts that tell associates how to respond following the retailer’s own best practices, in real time
To do all of the above and turn brick-and-mortar locations into digital stores of the future, retailers require a real-time store execution and workforce management platform. Such a platform gathers data from sources inside and outside the store. Store systems then analyze the data for trends in customer traffic, weather patterns, inventory shortages, late-truck arrivals, and more. All of this important information is not locked up in 20-30 applications, but is instead fed into a single source for managers and associates to view, preferably on a mobile device.
The final step is to make the data actionable. The real-time store execution and workforce management platform has built-in parameters that, when breached, trigger corrective actionable information to managers and associates.
Instead of having to read reports and analyze the data themselves, employees are provided exact instructions on how to fix problems and respond to changing conditions as they occur.
A real-time store execution and workforce management platform allows retailers to best take advantage of their key differentiator – a physical location. Even with hyperbolic news claiming the end of brick-and-mortar, it is important to remember that many of the biggest names in the online pure-play realm are taking a leaf out of old school retail’s playbook by opening up brick-and-mortar stores of their own. Online pure-plays such as Amazon, Bonobos, Warby Parker, and more are opening up stores so that they can try and create a little bit of the magic that traditional retailers have been so adept at creating. The future of Retail isn’t in becoming more like online pure-plays, but in learning how to harness today’s most advanced technologies to enhance stores to provide the best possible customer experience.
Reflexis enables retailers to execute strategy flawlessly and uncover profit. The Reflexis platform includes real-time store execution, task management, compliance, time and attendance, and labor scheduling. Learn more at http://reflexisinc.com/
From understanding customers to providing a cohesive experience across channels, retail leaders choose Cognizant to help them work better and work differently. Cognizant’s Retail practice helps retailers turn today’s pain points into new business opportunities. Learn more at https://www.cognizant.com/retail